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Bat-tling for Success - Penge motorcycles

Price: £19.99

by Alan Cheesman

Story of BAT, Chase and Martinsyde motorcycles.

Once upon a time, as all the best stories begin, there was a town called Penge, to the South-East of London. Many thought the name sounded funny and made jokes about it. In 1902 however, the competitors of the Bat Motor Manufacturing Company were not laughing; they were watching as BAT machines set ALL the World speed and distance records leaving the opposition with none. Bat had something the others didn’t, reliability; there were bigger and more powerful machines but they would “conk out,” if pressed for very long. This situation did not last of course, the others caught up, especially when Mr. Batson suffered the effects of over-stretching his investment, but BAT was rescued and remained among the leaders of the British motorcycle industry until the Great War. This not only destroyed too many lives but also destroyed a way of life and when Bat finally got back on its feet after the conflict it faced a very different market.

Wartime inflation pushed up the prices of just about everything, including of course raw materials, and there were thousands of war surplus machines being dumped by the Government. There was a brief upturn of the economy when a host of new manufacturers set up in business. Just as the industry began to assert itself a moulders strike held up the supply of castings for engines, gearboxes etc. This was followed by a slump which triggered a price-cutting war amongst manufacturers. The larger ones, of course were better placed to weather this storm but smaller producers like Bat struggled. The Motor Trade Association’s strict rules prevented cars and other vehicles and accessories from being sold at below manufacturers’ recommended list prices so many any retailers advertised “shop-soiled” machines. “Shop-soiled” was a popular euphemism within the trade for unsold stock, and was used to circumvent these rules.

By the mid-twenties the market was swamped with the products of fading and failed makers being sold off by these companies or their receivers. BAT bikes had become dated, and had no funds for development. The purchase of Martinsyde was probably conceived as a way out of the Company’s difficulties, but it just meant further investment for little return. Bat products remained quality items right to the end but the last ones were hard to shift. In the end Bat became a spares and repairs firm.

The Martinsyde story is a similar one post war. The bikes got off to a flying start but ran into financial problems compounded by a disastrous fire at the works. Although few Martinsyde and BAT-Martinsyde bikes were built in Penge their story is included as mechanically they were derived from their ancestor.

The Chase brothers, Arthur and Fred were once household names, the former a cycling champion, Olympic champion and World record holder of extraordinary ability, and Fred, the man who set all the early Bat records. The pair then went on to manufacture motorcycles and although for only a short time, their product gained a healthy reputation for performance. They remained in the motor trade for the rest of their working lives producing some original accessories and tools. You would think that after all they had done there would be at least one blue (or other colour) plaque for them somewhere but sadly none exists.

The competition results mentioned in the text are not meant to be complete but give a good indication of the types of event the machines were being entered for and subsequently successful in many of these competitions were organised on a formula, so finishing places did not always equate to prizes awarded. There are many reports of events and exhibitions at Crystal Palace.

Many classified adverts for second hand machines are included which give a good indication of how many of each model was sold new. There are many photos from period magazines such as “The Motor Cycle” and “Motorcycling” and so vary in quality. In some cases original captions have been retained for a period effect.

Until the 1920s carburettor was spelt carburetter with an. “er” and gradually changed to its current spelling.

There are currently about 38 surviving BAT machines and several Martinsydes but no Chase bikes are known.

Paperback. 296 pages over 300 illustrations of bikes, riders, races and premises